Apron Strings

07 Aug 2013

book3

She…

is a scratch-made girl who swears by using wholesome, honest ingredients. she is genuinely endearing….salt of the earth, if you will.  you want to eat and linger in her kitchen for days surrounded by sweet children soaking up every bit of tender love in the air. you want to watch butterflies and pick berries in her garden and then sit outside for tea and tart al fresco. she radiates a supreme goodness, yet has absolutely no pretense…….she’d make me a damn fine neighbour.

This is Nessa Robins.

bookcover

When I opened my copy of Nessa’s beautiful new cookery book, Apron Strings, I read it through from top to tail. This was not an entirely easy task given the fact that I was in wellies mucking out a shed in between chapters. The book embraced me, much like Nessa’s personal warmth. I went into the kitchen and immediately made a comforting crock of her potato soup for everyone. Not just any Irish potato soup; a savoury + spicy white onion, potato and chorizo number. It was pure velvet heaven on a drizzly, fresh day.

bookcollage

I am sorry if this seems a bit heavy handed, but the truth is, I can’t say enough about how special this cookery book is…..I mean, there is a chapter called Home Nurse. Emmmm, can I move in for a weekend, Nessa?

homenurse

For the record, this is not a review. We bought Nessa’s book; and will buy a few more before the holidays. However, her publisher has generously offered to give away a copy to a fortunate reader. If you are interested in being in the draw, please leave a comment below. Of course, will ship domestic or international. {If you are not chosen to win, you can buy Nessa’s book here or here}

Other quick bits of bacchanalia to share…

The very first Ballymaloe Garden Festival is on Aug 31-Sep 1st. We are hoping to attend; maybe will see you there?

Our short film, Small Green Fields, has applied for an Arthur Guinness Project grant to produce a feature length version…will the big dogs support a small dog? We will have to wait and see….you can vote here if you like.

Does anyone else use Eden knives? I recently bought two and they have changed my world in the kitchen. Would love to hear other experiences with this {new to me} brand.

Expedia recently asked me to review their new travel app. Since I don’t do formal reviews on this blog, I declined, but I will give it a mention it here as we frequently use Expedia for booking our travel to America and the app will surely come in handy.

Still going gaga over Toonsbridge Dairy water buffalo cheeses that I picked up at the Milk Market over the weekend, you can find it in the The Real Olive Oil Co. stall.

My friend, Niamh Shields, is writing a new BACON book and needs our support, here is a link to her Kickstarter campaign for Project: Bacon

Food 52′s Provisions has opened it’s virtual doors! I am coveting more than a few items in stock….

Oh, the Irish Blog Awards are coming up. They are accepting nominations from Irish diaspora this year too so if you are Irish and living abroad with a blog there is now a category for you.

Listening: Jake Bugg

Insta-loving: @dashandbella {Dash and Bella blog}

Hope you are all enjoying the summer.

Next post: An Irish Country House Tea…and a very special berry pie

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos of book by Imen McDonnell 2013. Nessa Robins did all of her own photography for the book.

 

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finalcrabboil

It’s summertime and the living is easy…

…at least that’s what Mimi of Manger says, so we’re  just going to go vicariously with it.

For the first time in a few years, we won’t be traveling stateside this summer. So, I’ve decided to bring a bit of Americana to the farm.

We’ve already gone all State Fair and made corn dogs; funnel cakes are on deck, and a few weeks ago we hosted a traditional American southern-style crab boil.

It is always surprising how little seafood you typically find on Irish menus. (with the exception of that glorious & ever so popular Irish seafood chowder, of course.) Crab and lobster are a fraction of the cost here, and I make sure that we take FULL advantage of this flavorful fact in our kitchen.

The crab and lobster that we source from our local fishmonger comes from nearby Kerry or Clare; two gorgeous Atlantic counties which border us. The Brown Kerry crab with its succulent claw meat and Clare’s luscious lobster tails both equate absolute divinity in my book.

Here is my basic recipe for a classic summer crab boil as was also recently {and very proudly} featured in the Sunday Times Magazine. A crab boil is more a method than a recipe; the fun of it is in the preparation and casual eating ritual which is what makes it especially delicious to me!

County Kerry Crab Boil

INGREDIENTS
New potatoes (2 or 3 per person depending on their size, cut in half-inch slices or whole if small enough)
Salt to taste
Crab boil seasoning (I recommend Zatarain’s or DIY a large sachet filled with mustard seeds, coriander seed, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, dill seed and allspice)
Live brown Kerry crabs (3 or 4 small crabs per person or 1-2 large)
Sweet corn (an ear per person, cut in halves)
Smoked spicy sausage (1-2 per person)
Plenty of melted butter for dipping
Newspapers or brown paper for covering your table
Little forks, claw crackers or hammers to get at the crab meat

METHOD
1. Put the potatoes in an oversized pot; they should cover the bottom.
2. Cover them with water by about two inches.
3. Add crab boil seasonings and a few generous pinches of sea salt.
4. Char or sear sausages to seal in flavour.
5. Place crabs, corn, and sausages in the pot and cover.
6. Put the pot over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil; reduce the heat
to medium high. Cook for another 12 to 18 minutes until the crabs are cooked
through.
7. Hold the lid of the pot ajar and dump the water, keeping the food in the pot.
8. Pour the pot onto the center of a table covered with paper.
9. Make sure plenty of melted butter is available and a couple bottles of chilled
pinot blanc, rosé wine, sangria or crisp cold cider.
10. FEAST!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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gate

“I’m bored”

It’s nearly 7am on our third day into summer break. I explain that it is impossible for you to be bored, you haven’t even brushed your teeth yet. Come back to me when your breath is a little sweeter.

We scamper downstairs to the kitchen and develop a new pancake recipe. We’re kind of on a pancake-a-day lark. I let him choose a flavour and he asks to try the chocolate version which he has been obsessing about for weeks. The same one I have been saying no to for weeks. While he goes outside to feed the dogs while I finely grate a carrot into the mix and pour batter onto the griddle and feel better about feeding my child chocolate pancakes for breakfast.

We sit at the table and eat. He gobbles two mahogany-coloured flapjacks while I carefully alternate spooning egg out of a cup with plunging crunchy toast soldiers into its gooey yolk. We slurp milk and coffee respectively. Yes, slurrrrp. It’s 7:44am.

In my best Fantastic Mr. Fox voice, I proudly proclaim “we shall go wild crafting today.” If I say we are going to clip elderflowers it won’t be as nearly exciting….the foraging adventure never wears off, but you gotta keep it fresh.

We pack up. I bring camera, bucket, shears. He brings a compass, my dad’s vintage binoculars, 3D glasses, and his dingy soccer ball.

I open the gate to one of our quiet grazing meadows which is enclosed by wild hedges teeming with flora. We see a row of hay bales all stacked up in a long row like one of those big tootsie rolls with segments. Bale jumping glee.

balejumping
We find wild honeysuckle, comfrey, meadowsweet, and, of course elderflowers. Geoffrey looks for four leaf clovers while I get drunk on the beguiling fragrance of wild roses.

cloversandroses

We near the elderflower hedge and hear cows lowing on the other side. They get louder. Through the thick hedge I swear I make out a black bull. Louder. A low warning moo. Louder again. We snip the musky vanilla coloured delicate flower heads that dangle like earrings from the elder branches and rush away…stopping only for a bouquet of honeysuckle blossoms.

Bale hopping.

Ball kicking.

Flower smelling.

Clover picking.

Elderflower clipping.

Honeysuckle sniffing.

Wild Crafting.

pickedflowerssimple

We arrive home and simultaneously prepare a batch of elderflower + wild honeysuckle cordial, supper, and a homemade greeting card for a loved one. I have to go on record as saying that there are very few edible flower flavours that I tolerate. As much as I could bathe in rose or orange blossom water, for me, the taste harkens of eating chapstick.

honeysuckle

Elderflower and honeysuckle are different. Elderflower has a very distinct, almost muscat scent and the flavour is genuinely just on the right side of sweet. Honeysuckle has a fresh sugary tang that lingers in such a satisfying way. I had never sampled these amazing treats until I moved to Ireland and they have simply become a summer staple.

elderflowertreejellyduo

We wait 48 hours then prepare the jelly using a bit of our priceless cordial and save the rest. In Ireland, gelatin is “jelly.” If you are like me, you will order “jelly and ice cream” from copious amounts of kiddies menus when dining out. It goes together like oil and water, but that separation is addicting. Well, it is in our house anyway.

jelliesgalore3

Elderflower + Honeysuckle Jelly
Feeds 4 hungry farmers

250ml of elderflower cordial ( I use this recipe using 1/2 elderflowers and 1/2 honeysuckle heads)
750ml of water
150g of caster sugar
6 gelatine leaves

1. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft. Remove from the water, squeezing out the excess water from the leaves
2. Place the caster sugar, half of the cordial and half of the water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Once boiling, remove from the heat and add the gelatine leaves. Stir well to dissolve the gelatine
3. Add the remaining water and cordial, stir well and pour the mixture one large or two medium jelly molds.
4. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate overnight until set.
5. Unmold and eat with scoops of ice cream.

meadowsweeticeduo

Meadowsweet Ice Cream
Makes 1.5 pint

500ml double cream
250ml whole milk
135g sugar
Generous handful of wild meadowsweet flowers*

1. Combine cream, milk, and sugar in a saucepan and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Pour cream into a bowl and steep meadowsweet until cooled.
3. Pour cream and meadowsweet through a sieve into a clean bowl.
4. Chill in the refrigerator overnight.
5. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
6. Store in an airtight container and freeze for an additional 2 hours.

*Make sure you have positively identified meadowsweet or any wild edibles. Also, From Wikipedia: About one in five people with asthma has Samter’s triad,[3] in which aspirin induces asthma symptoms. Therefore, asthmatics should be aware of the possibility that meadowsweet, with its similar biochemistry, will also induce symptoms of asthma.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013.

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salmontacoblog

Once a week, the farm kitchen is transformed into a Tuesday taqueira. Whether we use our own chicken, whatever is fresh and fun at the fishmonger (squid is always silly + sensational) or something meaty from the local butcher, I would simply not survive without having a little Mexicana on the supper schedule despite having a three-hour drive to the nearest margarita + mole.

Our new favourite standby: Hot Smoked Salmon Tacos.

I first made these special salmon tacos after an extraordinary day spent fishing with Birgitta Curtin of Burren Smokehouse in County Clare.  She was heading out to fish for the first of the wild Atlantic spring salmon in Ireland, and I asked if I could come along and document her adventure.

Irish Atlantic salmon spend the first years of their life in rivers before migrating to the sea to grow. To complete their life cycle, they return to their river of origin to spawn. In the case of these fish, they would have traveled as far as Greenland and back to Ireland to lay their eggs. The wild salmon season begins in May and ends in August, with strict regulations in place to prevent overfishing.

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I arrived at a marina on the River Lee in Cork on a cool, rainy morning in mid May. Birgitta was suited up and ready to go, but the fish weren’t exactly going along with the plan. After a couple of hours, we decided to pull up anchor and move to the River Nore in County Kilkenny. We met Eurotoques winning producers, Mark and Tricia Murphy, who brought us out on traditional Irish cot boats for the afternoon. It was absolutely calm and serene as a we floated up and down river pulling a snap-net between the two handcrafted flat-bottomed boats.

snapnetting

Birgitta and I left Kilkenny with a small bounty of beautiful wild salmon, one of which was destined for the President’s residence in Dublin for a special meal that evening.

salmonbeforeafter

We are all fans of smoked salmon here so I when I came home with a few packs of Birgitta’s Burren Smokehouse tender, delicate hot-smoked salmon I absolutely had to experiment with using it as a taco ingredient.  It was Tuesday after all.

Combining the added smoke of chipotle with garden fresh kale and cabbage verde, these fishy tacos pack a rich and flavorful, yet balanced punch in the taco department {not to mention plenty of Omega 3s and antioxidants!}

We’re hooked on hot-smoked salmon tacos here….perhaps you will be too?

Hot-Smoked Wild Irish Salmon Tacos with Chipotle Crema & Kale + Cabbage Verde

Ingredients
SERVES 4 HUNGRY FARMERS
1/2 cup/125 g mayonnaise
1/2 cup/125 g sour cream
1 tablespoon sauce from tin of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (or 1 tbsp chili powder)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 pound/450 g hot-smoked salmon (or any smoked fish
. Burren Smokehouse Salmon is available in USA here)
Salt and pepper
8 flour tortillas, warmed
1 cup/250g of shredded white cabbage
2 cups/500g of tender leaf curly kale, finely chopped
1 small green chili pepper, finely chopped
A big handful of chopped fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove
Juice of one lime
2 limes, cut into wedges + cilantro for garnish

Method
1. For the crema: mix mayonnaise and sour cream together in a large mixing bowl and add the chipotle, cumin, lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. For the verde: Blitz cabbage, kale, green pepper, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, salt in food processor until smoothish.
3. Flake the hot-smoked salmon into each tortilla.
4. Top with crema and verde.
5. Serve with lime wedges and cilantro. (You can also flake the salmon into the crema, mix then fill tortilla and top with verde)
6. Feast.

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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coffeeicecream3

I recently had the great fortune to stumble upon an amazing new coffee roaster in Ireland. They go by Red Rooster and are an American family-run business who prepare fairtrade beans in their special cast-iron roaster just outside of Galway City. Since I am constantly craving a truly proper cup of jo, I placed an order and waited (im)patiently for its delivery.

When the parcel of coffee arrived in our kitchen, its ridiculously alluring aroma filled every corner of the room. The scent took me straight back to city cafes with artisan roasters that sit in the corner and work away, while you sip your coffee and work away too. The Red Rooster full-bodied blends all boast a sweet, smokey fragrance that imbues comfort, yet shakes you awake before you even brew it.

From the minute I took a sip of a deep, dark roast, aptly named “Farmer’s Friend,” I started dreaming about coffee ice cream. The kind all the grown-ups ordered while we were handed our double-dip of blue moon when we were kids. Now, as an adult I crave coffee ice cream along with the memories of those long hot American summer days.

As you know, ice cream comes easy here. Fresh sweet cream abounds. So, Geoffrey and I make the ice cream on an unusually warm Irish day. He actually likes the strong flavour. He eats two scoops and plays outside for three hours. When he comes back into the house, he asks if we can just make plain chocolate next time. I agree.

buttercups

If you want to add a little Irish Whiskey to this recipe, feel free. Then you’ll have Irish-Irish Coffee Ice Cream.  We did that too. It was a hit for a small dinner party we hosted recently. If you like ice cream in your coffee, slip a scoop of sweet cream ice cream into a small cup of strong, velvety Red Rooster coffee and you have an amazing affogato. Have done that one too many times this week.

affogato

 Slurrrrp.

Irish Coffee Ice Cream
Makes 1.5 pints

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups whole or ground Red Rooster beans {decaf if you don’t want the caffeine + any quality coffee will work}
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 cup Irish whiskey {optional}

METHOD
1. Heat the milk, sugar, coffee, salt, and cream in a medium saucepan until the sugar is melted and it is warm and steamy, but not boiling. Once the mixture is warm, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
2. Strain creamy coffee mixture into a ceramic bowl. Mix in the vanilla {and whiskey if using}
3. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator overnight, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Or, use a hand churn method.

{for a metric conversion chart, click here}

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013. Imperfect hand model: a certain farmer. This post was not sponsored in any way by Red Rooster coffee-it simply just rocks my world.

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wildboy

overheadcloseup

Long before I was familiar with  “ramps” or “ramsons” {or wild leek, spring garlic, and wild onion for that matter} I was visiting the honeybees in the wood with my father-in-law.  I wandered off to admire the babbling brook when I stepped on a plant and suddenly the scent of woodsy garlic hit the air with a vengeance.

I came back and explained what happened to Michael and he enlightened me by saying that the plant was ‘wild spring garlic’ and to him it was a bit of a nuisance. Especially if it grew near the bee hives.  {garlic honey anyone? Actually, that kinda sounds good!}

I went home that afternoon and secretly marveled over the idea of ‘wild spring garlic’.  The following weekend, the little farmer and I packed up a basket and the garden shovel and we went down to collect some of this chive-y plant to use in a soda bread recipe.

Nowadays, Geoffrey and I have an annual outing for ramsons. We have found their haven in the wood, where the flowering onion grows madly and looks like a blanket of snow amidst the ivy entangled trees.

newwild1

We’ve done many things with these gems, wild garlic pesto is easy and lovely, wild garlic infused oil works perfectly, I’ve pickled the bulbs and used them for double dirty martinis. Today, I decided to throw them into our favourite go-to pasta. I usually use regular garlic and lemon zest, but switched it up with the ramsons and grapefruit zest. Wild garlic + grapefruit should really get a room together because they absolutely sing. Serve this simple pasta with rhubarb cordial like we did {or a lovely chilled rosé would be divine}

tabletop

Irish Ramson + Kale + Grapefruit Linguine

Serves 4

200g Linguine {other any pasta, even asian rice noodles would be nice}
1 chicken or veg stock cube
2-3 tbsp of olive oil
2-3 large ramson bulbs {or 4-5 small}
Handful of ramson flowers {rinsed thoroughly}
200g of blanched kale
1 tbsp grapefruit zest (or lemon zest)
100g grated parmigiano-reggiano (or more to taste)

1. Boil water then add stock cube and linguine.
2. While linguine is cooking, sauté ramson bulbs in olive oil over low heat for 5
minutes until golden.
3. Add kale and cook for another 5 minutes, tossing together gently.
4. Stir in grapefruit zest and 1/2 of the parmesan.
5. Strain linguine, reserving 1/2 cup of stock liquid.
6. Add linguine and reserved liquid to sauté pan, stir through.
7. Serve with remaining parmigiano-reggiano and dress with ramson flowers.

I have a few bits of bacchanalia to share as well. First of all, Donal Skehan has just launched a magazine! Aptly titled FEAST, it is a dinner journal filled with delicious, beautifully photographed Irish food stories. I have recently been contributing recipes + photographs to the positively divine My Little Box, part of My Little Paris. For the moment, the boxes which are similar to the Birch Box, but also filled with a lifestyle +food magazine are only available in France and Belgium, but will soon be expanding to other parts of the world.  I recently discovered Mimi Thorsson’s magnificent Manger blog and can’t get enough of her gorgeously documented life of convivial food and family in France. Beth of  Local Milk blog came to visit Ireland last week and didn’t want to go home. She is a contestant on the new Masterchef series stateside, tune in! Another American girl/soon-to-be-an-Irish-farmer’s-wife shares her recipe for Kombucha. On a non-food related note, I have finally found a store in Ireland that rivals my lingerie lady at Bloomies. This is big news, I tell you.  Dublin Lingerie Co. is an online shop that sells pretty + quality underpinnings {that fit!}.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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Welsh Cakes

19 May 2013

welsh

Sundays are the one day of the week where I am not preparing 2-3 separate brekkies. Richard can usually take a break from late morning until late afternoon so we’ll share a lazy, simple brunch of something like eggs, American crispy bacon and buttermilk pancakes {Geoffrey’s favorite}. Sometimes I’ll splash out and whiz up a full Irish or an eggs benny, or if we’ve had friends for dinner the previous evening, an easy strata that I prepared the day before and can just pop into the oven. If I have a hardcore hankering for home, I’ll do a version of a Sunday favourite that I used to share with a special friend, a breakfast quesadilla made with egg whites, salsa fresco, fresh guacamole, farmer cheese and fresh herbs from the garden. We try to make Sundays sublime.

hen

This morning I woke up with a mind whirring on about Welsh cakes. Similar to griddle scones, they have added fruit in the form of currants or raisins and are cooked on a griddle or in a frying pan. These charming little cakes originate from nearby Wales, and can also be referred to as a bakestone. Feeling the will of the wisps this morning, we simply swapped Geoffrey’s fluffy pancakes for fruity Welsh cakes and he was equally delighted.

I have had several requests for the recipe today, so I wanted to quickly oblige….hope you enjoy them as much as we did. They can be served at tea time (late afternoon) or anytime really, including 8pm on a Sunday night….

Welsh Cakes
{makes about 16}

225g plain flour
85g caster sugar
½ tsp mixed spice or cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
100g butter, cut into small pieces, plus extra for frying
50g currants
1 egg, beaten
splash milk

1. Combine the flour, sugar, mixed spice, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Then, with your fingers, rub in the butter until crumbly. Mix in the currants. Work the egg into the mixture until you have soft dough, adding a splash of milk if it seems a little dry – it should be the same consistency as shortcrust pastry.

2. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to the thickness of your little finger. Cut out rounds using a 6cm cutter, re-rolling any trimmings. Grease a flat griddle pan or heavy frying pan and place over a medium heat. Cook the Welsh cakes in batches, for about 3 mins each side, until golden brown, crisp and cooked through. Delicious served warm with butter and jam, or simply sprinkled with caster sugar. Cakes will stay fresh in a tin for 1 week.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell 2013. Hand model: Geoffrey McDonnell

 

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lastone 2

I have been experimenting with milk again. How can I resist when I am surrounded by such mass bovinity in all of its glory? The dairy possibilities are endless in this kitchen. There is literally milk everywhere, clearly most notably on my brain.

Over the past few years I have performed my fair share of indulgent dairy experiments. I’ve churned butter. Strained farmer cheese. Clouted clotted cream. Creamed curd cheese. Condensed milk and evaporated milk. Dairy-ed fudge. Soured cream. Creamed cheese. Used the remaining buttermilk and whey for various experiments in baking. Hell, I’ve even made bread out of milk.

creamymilk

Strictly speaking, when things get a little stressful; i.e. when the weather makes it difficult to farm, we DIY ice cream.  One of my favourite playwrights’, David Mamet exclaimed, “We must have pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” Well, I agree, but I’d swiftly say the same for ice cream too.

When our ice cream is ready to eat, we quietly share fifteen family minutes together on the farm, scooping spoonful after spoonful of cold creamy glee into our smiling mouths. I suppose the flavour du jour is whatever strikes the fancy of a certain farmer’s mind at that particular time. Triple chocolate-chocolate, cookie dough, chunky monkey, red raspberry ripple, marshmallow cream, rhubarb-n-custard….if we are feeling extremely creative, and if the season is right, we’ll steep some fresh hay into the creamy base too. Just because.

This weekend, we happened to have a bit of extra crème fraîche in the fridge so we decided to make ice cream with it. Crème fraîche ice cream is not new. It’s been done before, but it’s new to my kitchen, to my Magimix, to our time-tested palates.

After getting an email from a friend telling tantalising tales of lemon sea salt ice cream at the beach, I decided to add that to the mix as well. The result is an ultra-creamy, tangy, zesty ice cream with the slightest hint of salt from the sea.

cremefraicheicecream2

Crème-Fraîche-Lemon-Sea-Salted Ice Cream

200ml whole milk
175g caster sugar
600g full-fat crème fraîche (Glenisk or Glenilen are both fantastic)
Zest 1 lemon
½ tsp vanilla extract
2-3 pinches sea salt (I love Irish Atlantic Sea Salt)

1. Whisk together the milk, sugar, crème fraîche, lemon zest and vanilla over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
2. Set aside to cool completely. Place in fridge overnight.
3. Add in sea salt and churn in an ice-cream machine, following manufacturer’s
instructions, before freezing. Or freeze for 1 hr, then give a good whisk and return to
the freezer for another hour. Repeat 3 or 4 times until it becomes solid.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

{I am away from the farm travelling stateside due to a bereavement this week, so I am sharing this post adapted from my column + recipe recently published in Irish Country Living}

Photos + styling by Imen McDonnell 2013 

 

 

 

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wildgarlic

focaccia

Bread baked by Joe Fitzmaurice is essentially art.

Edible masterpieces that go up in *taste* value as they age {see his remarkable long-fermented rye sourdough recipe below.}

Carefully designed, crafted, nurtured, and loved, each loaf is fired in the beautiful brick oven bakery he built at his home located in Ireland’s first and only eco-village.

kneadingcollage

Joe is a maker, a craftsman. He wasn’t always a part of this trade, but to meet him you get the sense that he’s always had a baker’s soul. He is a warm fella; like his bakehouse. His oven was designed by the late, legendary oven crafter, Alan Scott. He counts reknowned Tartine baker, Chad Robertson, as inspiration. He wins bread awards, but doesn’t talk about it.  And lucky for us, his loaves are still served up at Blazing Salads  in Dublin where his baking story began.

joe

baskets

The efficient, timber-burning brick oven gets fired in the evening, which, in turn, magnificently provides enough heat to bake breads for the entire next day. Brick-radiated heat is meant to be “more kind to the dough” Joe explained. The bakery uses only certified organic flours, and specialises in sourdough, long fermentation, spelt and rye breads.

ovencollage

Find Joe’s bread at Blazing Salads Bread Company, Dublin. Cloughjordan Wood Fired Bakery is not open to the public, but you are welcome to visit by appointment….go on.  www.cloughjordanwoodfiredbakery.com

Joe’s Country Rye

For the Starter:

Organic Strong bread flour 1100g

Organic Rye flour 1000g

Water (lukewarm) 480ml

Water (78f/25c) 150ml per feeding

For the Leaven:

Water (78f/25c) 200 grams

For the Dough:

Water (80f/27c) 750ml

Leaven 200g

Organic Strong bread flour 900g

Organic Rye flour 100g

Salt 20g

1. Make the Starter: Mix strong bread flour with rye flour. Place lukewarm water in a medium bowl. Add 315g flour blend (reserve remaining flour blend), and mix with your hands until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Cover with a tea towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place until bubbles form around the sides and on the surface, about 2 days. A dark crust may form over the top. Once bubbles form, it is time for the first feeding.

2. With each feeding, remove 75g; discard remainder of starter. Feed with 150g reserved flour blend and 150ml warm water. Mix, using your hands, until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Repeat every 24 hours at the same time of day for 15 to 20 days. Once it ferments predictably (rises and falls throughout the day after feedings), it’s time to make the leaven.

3. Make the Leaven: The night before you plan to make the dough, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the matured starter. Feed with 200g reserved flour blend and the warm water. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 10 to 16 hours. To test leaven’s readiness, drop a spoonful into a bowl of room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready and needs more time to ferment and ripen. As it develops, the smell will change from ripe and sour to sweet and pleasantly fermented; when it reaches this stage, it’s ready to use.

4. Make the Dough: Pour 700ml warm water into a large mixing bowl. Add 200g leaven. Stir to disperse. (Save your leftover leaven; it is now the beginning of a new starter. To keep it alive to make future loaves, continue to feed it as described in step 2.) Add flours (see ingredient list), and mix dough with your hands until no bits of dry flour remain. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 35 minutes. Add salt and remaining 50ml warm water.

5. Fold dough on top of itself to incorporate. Transfer to a medium plastic container or a glass bowl. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. The dough will now begin its first rise (bulk fermentation), to develop flavor and strength. (The rise is temperature sensitive; as a rule, warmer dough ferments faster. Try to maintain the dough at 78f/25c degrees to 82f/27c degrees to accomplish the bulk fermentation in 3 to 4 hours.)

6. Instead of kneading, develop the dough through a series of “folds” in the container during bulk fermentation. Fold dough, repeating every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 hours. To do a fold, dip 1 hand in water to prevent sticking. Grab the underside of the dough, stretch it out, and fold it back over itself. Rotate container one-quarter turn, and repeat. Do this 2 or 3 times for each fold. After the 3 hours, the dough should feel aerated and softer, and you will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. If not, continue bulk fermentation for 30 minutes to 1 hour more.

7. Pull dough out of container using a dough spatula. Transfer to a floured surface. Lightly dust dough with flour, and cut into 2 pieces using dough scraper. Work each piece into a round using scraper and 1 hand. Tension will build as the dough slightly anchors to the surface as you rotate it. By the end, the dough should have a taut, smooth surface.

8. Dust tops of rounds with flour, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest on the work surface for 20 to 30 minutes. Slip the dough scraper under each to lift it, being careful to maintain the round shape. Flip rounds floured side down.

9. Line 2 medium baskets or bowls with clean kitchen towels; generously dust with flour. Using the dough scraper, transfer each round to a basket, smooth side down, with seam centered and facing up. Let rest at room temperature covered with towels for 3 to 4 hours before baking.

10. Bake the Bread: Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake the bread, preheat oven to 500f/260c with rack in lowest position, and warm a 9 1/2-inch round or an 11-inch oval heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid.

11. Turn out 1 round into heated pot (it may stick to towel slightly). Score top twice using a razor blade or a sharp knife. Cover with lid. Return to oven, and reduce oven temperature to 450f/230c degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.

12. Carefully remove lid (a cloud of steam will be released). Bake until crust is deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes more.

13. Transfer loaf to a wire rack. It will feel light and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool.

14. To bake the second loaf, raise oven temperature to 500f/260c degrees, wipe out pot with a dry kitchen towel, and reheat with lid for 10 minutes. Repeat steps 11 through 13.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2013 with exception of fire photo which Joe provided to me. 

 

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overhead

Finding a white egg in Ireland can be a bit of an adventure. If you live here, this is common knowledge. If you don’t, it could come as a {happy} surprise. Brown eggs are part and parcel to Irish life (and, to most other European countries as well). If you really must have white eggs, your best bet is to look for duck eggs at a farmer’s market, gourmet food grocer, or perhaps visit a local farm.

While we prefer brown hen eggs with their vivid yolks, each spring I go round-robin and gather a couple dozen white duck eggs so that we can carry on the American tradition of dyeing hard-boiled eggs for Easter. I also like to use a few of these ivory beauties to bake up a bevy of special sponge sandwich cakes layered with fresh cream and jam to share with family and friends.

eggs

Irish duck eggs are extra large with yolks that are deeper in colour and richer in flavour than hen eggs. But more importantly, they make for an extremely thick and scrumptious Victoria sandwich; a sponge cake originally dreamed up for the queen’s tea in the UK and later became a baker’s staple in Ireland as well.

Discovering the Victoria sponge is easily one of my favourite food encounters since moving to Ireland. Yes, quick and easy to make, but the best bit? You are meant to eat it with your fingers!

hen

I’ll never forget meeting with Irish Country Living editor, Mairead Lavery, for the first time. She had invited me to her home for a chat. It was a sunny spring day.  I sat in her kitchen with a cup of tea watching in awe as she talked about farming and food and family while effortlessly whipping up a sponge. She baked it, jammed it, sliced, and then finally served each of us a generous warm wedge waxing on nostalgically about a dinner party she had recently hosted. When I looked for a fork, she informed me in her lovely Irish lilt “not all all, you pick it up with your hands and eat it like a sandwich” From that day forward, I have had a love affair with the Victoria sandwich.

rhubarbspongespoon

This year, I scored some beautiful rhubarb at the market, {thankfully, as I cannot seem to grow more than a stem or two in our own garden!} and somewhat outrageously decided to make up a batch of gorgeous velvety rhubarb-vanilla jam specifically for slathering in between spongey sandwich cake layers. What can I say? With the unrelenting cool weather, I was craving a ‘consummate spring cake’. And, If it wasn’t for me, everyone at the farm would not have been spoiled silly with messy thick duck egg sponge sandwich slices slathered in fluffy fresh cream and rhubarb jam for days….{right?}

springcollage

You may have noticed a few small adjustments here on the blog. Keeping in the spirit of spring, I’ve incorporated a new header and layout, along with a few new buttons, bells and whistles. All designed by the marvelous Graham Thew who mostly works on much more important jobs, such as designing an arsenal of cookbooks for Gill and MacMillan. I am thrilled to bits with the new look, it just feels fresh and ready for fun. Let me know what you think!

Duck Egg Sponge with Fresh Cream and Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam

6oz/170g caster (superfine) sugar
6oz/170g soft butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 large duck eggs at room temperature
6oz/170g self-raising flour
1-2 tbsp of milk
5-6 tbsp rhubarb-vanilla jam (see below)
¼ pint/140ml double cream, lightly whipped
caster (superfine) sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/gas4
Grease and line two 8in/20cm sandwich (or springform cake) tins
Beat the sugar, butter and vanilla essence until very pale, light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
Very gently fold in the flour by hand. Add enough milk to make a dropping consistency.
Divide between the prepared tins, spreading out the mix gently.
Bake for about 25 minutes until well-risen and golden brown.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out on to a rack to cool.
Spread the underside of one cake generously with jam and top with whipped cream. Lay the second sponge on top, topside up. Dust with sugar, slice into wedges or fingers and serve.

Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam
Makes 2 x 340g jars

500g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm chunks
300g jam sugar (sugar with pectin)
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

Warm the rhubarb, jam sugar and vanilla pod over a medium-low heat and cook, stirring gently and being careful not to break up the rhubarb, until all of the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and cook at a rolling boil for five to 8-10 minutes, until the setting point is reached.
Remove from the heat, use a fork to fish out the vanilla pod (you can snip this into four pieces and put one in each jar if you like), and leave to stand for five minutes before potting up in warm, sterilised jars and sealing. The jam will keep in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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